Guest Post: Organic Versus Conventional Milk: Health Issues And Environmental Perspectives

Last week, guest poster Joanna Samuelson Lidback explained that milk – conventional or organic – is safe to drink and why her family has chosen to remain a “conventional” farm. Today, we have another guest post, this one from Kirstin Hendrickson, on health and environmental problems with large-scale dairy farming.

You may be wondering why on earth we’re spending so much time talking about milk on a parenting blog. That’s a good question, and I admit that we’ve gotten a bit off topic. However, I think that Americans, and especially our children, are far too disconnected from their food supply. It is important for us to understand where our food comes from and the impact of our buying decisions – and to pass that understanding on to our kids. Kirstin gives us more food for thought on organic vs. conventional milk, and I hope that the respectful discussion of these issues continues.

Organic Versus Conventional Milk: Health Issues And Environmental Perspectives

By Kirstin Hendrickson

Ah, the organic versus conventional debate. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by information flying around — much of which seems to change on a daily basis — with regard to whether organic is safer and healthier, or a scam directed at fearful parents. There are some important health issues associated with organic foods, but I don’t want to get into those in this post. Instead, I want to address all the reasons to buy organic food — specifically, organic milk — that AREN’T associated with individual health. Or at least, aren’t ostensibly associated with individual health. Continue reading

Guest Post: It’s Okay to Buy Plain ‘Ole Milk

Today’s guest post comes from Joanna Samuelson Lidback, a Vermont dairy farmer and a friend of mine from my undergraduate days at Cornell. I invited Joanna to submit a post about the differences in organic and conventional milk from both a farmer’s and a consumer’s perspective. I’m glad that she accepted, because I think her voice is important. Most of us buy milk every week, and yet when was the last time you sat down with a dairy farmer and talked with her in-depth about her farming practices?

Joanna’s story is personal; she’s writing about her family history and her livelihood. I expect that some of you will disagree with her conclusions about the value of organic milk, and that’s OK. I hope her post raises the level of awareness around farming practices in general and stimulates respectful discussion about our buying decisions. And if anyone is interested in submitting a guest post with another view, I always welcome that, as long as it is backed by science and/or personal experience.

Without further ado…

It’s Okay to Buy Plain ‘Ole Milk

By Joanna Samuelson Lidback

I was pretty excited when Alice asked me if I wanted to take a stab at this topic. In an effort for full disclosure up front, my husband and I are dairy farmers and fall into the conventional category, though we don’t use rBST either. We do support all dairy farmers, however, and support offering choices for consumers when it comes to food. I tried to remain as neutral as I could as I wrote this post, which was itself a lesson in humility for me. I have friends who are organic dairy farmers and of course did not want to offend them in my writing. I do have great respect for what they do and the added layers of management to maintain certified organic status. And oh, by the way, I’m not usually as research-oriented as Alice is, but I gave it a shot!

My husband dairy farmer (DF) and I have a 30-cow dairy farm. That means we milk 30 cows. We also raise our own “youngstock” (young animals not yet in the milking herd) plus a few steers; so we have a total of about 65 head of cattle that we care for, both Holsteins and Jerseys at our farm. The Jerseys go back to a 4-H dairy project that I started with my family when I was a kid. They are all registered with names and unique personalities. Some of them have been with me for a long time, with one family going back to the very first calves we owned. The Holsteins are my DF’s and they too have their own personalities but numbers instead of names, as they are not registered. We do have pet names for some of them, though, typically related to appearance or something that happened – like Pip, Slurpy and Whitey. Regardless, they are all now “our” girls.

My guess is that as you approach our place and see our girls grazing our rolling green hills in Northeast Vermont, you would maybe assume we are an organic herd. We are not, and I will get into the why not at the end of this post. Continue reading

My Relationship with Food: It’s emotional, and it’s complicated

I grew up on a farm. It wasn’t a big farm, but we produced food for our family and for a little extra income. So me and food – we go way back.

One of my earliest memories is of setting strawberry plants for our u-pick business. My parents dropped the starter plants at the correct spacing, and my brother and I followed behind, nesting each plant carefully into freshly prepared ground, patting the soil around the base. When those plants started to bear fruit, I liked to begin my summer mornings by grabbing a bowl from the kitchen and running out to pick the freshest berries. I ate them with cold milk, and there was nothing like it. Picking strawberries was my first paying job (nickel per pint, I think).

Close to the earth

We always had a huge vegetable garden. I watched my mom pore over seed catalogs while there was still snow on the ground. In spring, she taught me how to make long, straight garden rows using twine and chalk, and I helped her count seeds to drop into holes – just a few inches, then covered gently with dirt. We lugged 5-gallon buckets of water down the rows to get them off to a good start. By late summer, there was endless harvesting and canning in a sticky-hot kitchen.

We had a herd of 20-30 beef cows, and we slaughtered one per year to fill our chest freezer. My mom tells me that when I was a little girl – probably just 3 or 4 – I watched a cow be slaughtered. She tried to bring me in the house, but I was fascinated and wanted to see. A few years later, I insisted on being vegetarian for a while. I ate lots of peanut butter sandwiches but eventually came to terms with animals as a source of food. I helped my dad care for these animals and also spent long hours perched on a fence post, watching them graze and nurse their babies. Continue reading